SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Depending on who you ask, you may get different answers about the origins of Springfield’s namesake. The reason that it was lost in time was due to one man. Here’s a look at Springfield’s origins.
The town was incorporated in 1838, according to the City of Springfield. In 1835, approximately 500 people lived in the area.
The multiple stories of Springfield’s name
According to Brian Grubbs, Local History and Genealogy Manager for the Greene County Public Library, the original settlement was around two springs which were named Campbell and Fulbright Springs, which influenced settlers to select “Springfield” as the town’s official name.
A recollection published in the Springfield Leader on August 30, 1877 said, “When it came to naming the town, a consultation was held by Mr. [John Polk] Campbell and D.D. Miller, of ‘Miller Springs,’ and a few of the citizens; and as the spring was under the hill and the field on the hill, they concluded to call it Springfield.”
Some also believe that the settlement was named after a town in Tennessee, while others give credit to Springfield, Massachusetts.
In an article on May 2, 1915, by the Springfield Republican, Springfield’s name came to be thanks to James Wilson—the creek is named after him and he could have possibly been the first storekeeper in town.
According to the article, The day the town received the name of Springfield, Wilson, who was a storekeeper in Delaware Town, near the mouth of Finley Creek, brought a tent and opened a store in the southeast corner of the square. The store consisted of one barrel of ‘good’ white whiskey and a few bolts of domestic.
The article continued, “He called the few voters into his tent and showed them that he had a keg of whiskey on tap with a wooden faucet in it. He told them he was born and reared in Springfield, Mass., a beautiful little town, and that it would gratify him very much if they would vote to name this town Springfield. But whether or not they did, he told them, the keg of whiskey was on tap and they could have all the toddies they cared for. They voted to name the town Springfield.”
Why isn’t there a definitive story about Springfield’s namesake?
According to the Executive Director Emeritus for the History Museum on the Square, John Sellars, In 1861, during the time between the battle of Wilson’s Creek and the end of the year, a local man who the whole community knew and took care of was having a hard time dealing with the gunshots and the commotion. The community thought it would be best to keep him safely away from the ruckus, so they locked him inside the old courthouse in the middle of the square.
“It was a log and wood building in the middle of the square. And they had built this beautiful new brick courthouse on the corner of… College Street and the square. And so they’d moved all the business… all the activities of the court into the new courthouse in 1858,” said Sellars. “But the old courthouse is where they had all the records stored… and they locked him in there to keep him safe.”
The man set the building on fire and burned it down.
A significant amount of records of the city pre-1861 was lost including the official reason why Springfield is called Springfield.